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Congress is all for ‘mahagatbandhan’ but Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP does not make the cut

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The Congress believes it’s on an upswing in Delhi and its chances for a comeback there could be jeopardised if it does a tie-up with the AAP.

New Delhi: The Congress seems disinclined to forge an alliance with the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, a stand that brings to the fore the inherent contradictions that beset the incipient mahagatbandhan, or grand alliance, of anti-BJP parties.

According to the Congress party’s assessment, it’s on a revival path in Delhi, which could be jeopardised if it were to ally with the AAP at the state or the national level.

Besides, the grand old party still harbours a deep grudge against Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, one of the principal acolytes of social activist Anna Hazare whose anti-corruption movement in 2011 became a launch pad for the BJP and other parties to attack the Congress in the months leading to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

The central leadership of the Congress has now endorsed Delhi unit chief Ajay Maken’s stand against an alliance with the AAP.

“The question (of an alliance with the AAP) does not arise. In India, post-poll alliances are more practical than pre-poll alliances,” Congress in-charge of Delhi P.C. Chacko told ThePrint when asked about the AAP’s role in the mahagatbandhan for 2019.

But quickly added that his remark was only in the context of the AAP.

The Congress’ attempt to keep the AAP out of any pre-poll alliance at the national level exposes chinks in the opposition camp even as they seek to cobble together a mahagatbandhan at the national level.

The Congress is unwilling to cede much space to regional parties, which are its principal political opponents in states. The satraps are likely to return the favour. West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, for instance, may be enthusiastic about an anti-BJP front, but she is unlikely to accommodate the demands of the Congress, which, despite its continuous electoral slide, considers itself a major player in the state’s politics.

The Congress is likely to have similar conflicts of interest with regional players in many states. That explains why the Congress leadership is not enthusiastic about pre-poll alliances in states where it has big stakes.

As it is, said a Congress functionary, the party is keen on pre-poll alliances as part of the mahagatbandhan in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, but “hasn’t formed any definite view” about its strategy in other states.

A role for Mr chief minister?

Kejriwal has been angling for a role in the anti-BJP front and has even shared the stage with opposition leaders he earlier denounced and berated for their alleged acts of omission and commission.

The Congress is likely to play a pivotal role in the formation of the anti-BJP front, and its opposition could put paid to Kejriwal’s efforts to end his political isolation.

The Delhi chief minister has been on an apology spree to buy peace with professional adversaries and make himself more acceptable to the political class, whose members he used to paint as cheats, liars and conspirators.

Kejriwal promptly accepted Janata Dal (S) leader H.D. Deve Gowda’s invitation to attend the swearing-in ceremony of Karnataka chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy in Bengaluru last month. But the bureaucrat-turned-social activist-turned-politician looked visibly out of place and uneasy in the company of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, Sharad Pawar, Ajit Singh and the other opposition leaders he used to criticise.

“First of all, is Kejriwal secular? He is the person who, along with Anna Hazare, and backed by the BJP and the RSS, launched a tirade against the Congress. He was single-handedly responsible for tarnishing the image of the Congress,” said Maken.

Speaking to reporters earlier, Maken had cited the Congress’ performance in the Delhi municipal polls last year to buttress his claims about the party regaining its lost ground in the national capital.

The AAP’s vote share fell from 56-57 per cent in the 2015 assembly election, when it won 67 of Delhi’s 70 seats, to 26 per cent in the municipal polls, while the Congress’ went up from 9.5 per cent to 22 per cent during the same time.

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